With today's shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, you
may find your children searching for answers and reassurance about
safety in their own school and neighborhood. We spoke with Dr.
Stevan Weine, professor of psychiatry and director of the
University of Illinois at
Chicago International Center on Responses to Catastrophes, for
some tips on discussing the school shooting with children.
- Listen to your children. Let them talk and ask questions; let
them say what they're afraid of. Kids sometimes know more than you
think they do-they hear adults talk or they hear the
- Reassure them. Tell them how hard the adults in their life are
working to make them safe and that at home and at their school and
in their city and their neighborhood, they're safe.
- Let them set the tone and pace for the discussion and proceed
on a need-to-know basis. "What you don't want to do is overwhelm
children with too much information or too many scary images."
- Limit children's exposure to media. "When children see a story
about that on the media, they might think it's happening right in
their immediate vicinity, and that's not good."
- If kids ask why something like this happens, parents "need to
look in their own soul and try to explain in an honest way how such
a horrible thing can happen, whether they explain it in terms of
evil or illness or crime. Every parent has a different explanatory
- Try to stick with your normal routine. "It's important for
parents to not only say reassuring things, but act calm and normal
themselves, because the children will pick up on all the nonverbal
signals from parents.
Most kids are resilient and will absorb this kind of scary news
and keep going or bounce back, Weine says. But if a child's play
begins involving violence or death, if they're drawing lots of
scary images, if they're not sleeping or eating or concentrating
well, if they're more sullen or withdrawn, it may be time to seek
Liz DeCarlo is the senior editor at Chicago Parent.
See more of Liz's stories here.